Unsettling, surprising ways to learn about oneself.
As I am sitting here, a black ball of purring fur in my hoodie deciding whether to take its chance at staying on my lap in such an uncomfortable setting, I still wonder about how I will crystallize the train of though that brightened my return home since yesterday.
Much thoughts are pressing in my mind now and they are pushing to get out although my language processing nodes are crying to try and make a story, if not a rational ordering, out of their intricate web of cross-dependencies. The music helps, as it always does, and I may as well take a go at this without the hint of ethyl spirits that I used to involve in such circumstances…
I was invited in Scotland last Monday.
Scotland is a peaceful area, sparsely populated and truly beautiful. My hosts rented a house on the borders of the Loch Ness, with a breathtaking view on the waters, and more so on the cliffs that border the lake and carry, at this time of the year, autumn colors that I only ever dreamed to encounter in an hypothetical trip to Canada. So much for my irrational impressions that Europe had little aesthetic secrets left for me to discover. And While this was never a topic of discussion in our group, I couldn’t help but think about the immense forces that created the characteristic features of the Great Glen Fault, and the humbling thought that a mere geological tremor could mean a dire shift in our altitude and the utter destruction of our house and its surroundings.
Yet Scotland left me remarkably cold despite the mild weather. While I was acutely aware of it, the beauty of the Highlands merely stirred my heart and didn’t get hold of it. I didn’t dismiss it though; for one I do feel a deep understanding for the member of our company who delivered an awkward yet inspiringly sincere account of his love for this environment; but as I thought about his feelings on the way back to the Inverness airport, the clarity of mine dawned on me and left me dazzled for the next few hours.
Childhood memories, childhood experiences in general, are like deep scars: one can see them as impediments to external perfection, one can remember them as painful memories, one can try and hide them with layers of make-up or chisel them away using a scalpel and skin grafts; but they are bound to stay forever, carved in the flesh that was modified, if not visible from the outside. Accept them, and move on.
One cannot feel whole and consistent without including all the facets of ones presentness, even those due to unwanted causes.
Slopes covered by trees and waterfalls. Beautiful autumn colors. I am familiar with those, how couldn’t I remember? And yet the feelings that they stir for so many others are dead for me. I will never look back warmly at these countless occasions I was brought to hike in countless mountain ranges, with nothing else to do than stare at the purity of large spaces, the beauty of undisturbed biology, skies and geology. The pain from wounds opened and forced open so long have left me scarred for life, and have forever tainted my appreciation of the beauty of natural landscapes.
Until this week, I feared them, I loathed the memory and the pain they would stir every time I lost sight of a flat horizon — unless their surface was mostly covered in white, for the color white has become a safe harbor ever since the count of blissful experiences with snow has largely outnumbered a few early mishaps — and I am now soothed to discover that this pain has mostly subsided and left place to a peaceful indifference.
Indifference is a feeling that is difficult to justify to others who would dream to enjoy this environment every day of their life.
In general, indifference is a feeling that I also used to fear as a token of perceived lack of emotion. It is not socially acceptable in many contexts to stay indifferent especially in matters of enjoyment and entertainment. Staring at the Scottish reliefs, wandering around and breathing the cold air, I could not state my lack of feelings at this purity without risking being perceived as senseless, a freak; how then can I share how I feel that my indifference was a major achievement, at least to me? I guess I won’t, and I am satisfied that I avoided the situation by staying indoors for the entire duration of my stay.
A season has passed and I wasted most of it. My days have been relatively bleak since I started doubting my aspirations in the summer. As September moved by and my mood at the end of each day became broodier, I slowly lost appetite for the thrill of new experiences and the drive to move forward.
I didn’t know exactly why. In fact, the last three month have been full of discoveries, encounters, and otherwise happy experiences that have established warm memories and (hopefully) lasting bonds. I would have otherwise much to say about the exciting thrill of meeting interesting people, feeling part of a group, and getting slowly but surely confident about my surroundings.
Yet I felt nowhere near myself whenever I was alone, and I became increasingly aware that what was left of my drive everyday was mostly remnants of habits, and that its fuel was merely my automatic tendency to do whatever it takes to please those whom I respect and who protect me. The pride on which I was riding until two years ago like a surfer on its wave, the pride I had in establishing my new home and self-motivated independent life was wavering and I was slowly leaving room to a gloomy fog of weakness to the uncertainty of life. It was unnerving, as I was and still am a proponent of claiming the uncertainty as a realm of opportunities to be taken, not to be feared… And yet, I felt increasingly estranged to myself, wandering in self-doubt, not sure where to look for a key to the feelings I knew — from memory — that I was able to harbor in my more sunny days.
Of course, I am growing older. With this comes the useful toolbox of past experiences to deal with everyday challenges. And so I perused the recently learned the trick to drill the shadows of my conscience for the few unhandled feelings that hide in its corners. Like icebergs, the tip of a repressed uneasiness may hide a larger issues with many side-effects. After all, it was this way that I discovered that a tiny loose point at the tip of my tongue was the opening to a nearly deciliter of infected pus that kept my tongue uncomfortably inflated for two weeks — a longer time that a sane person would way before showing the clear signs of an infection to an authorized doctor! And it took only a few seconds of prodding to release the pressure, clean the wound and start the healing process that completed in one day. Ah, the wonders of self-introspection. But enough with the gore.
I first looked around and see whether I was repressing an attraction to someone in particular. And with it, how much the so far desired lack of a “specific someone” was affecting me. And so I went, looking at one and another in turn, checking each time how my heart and libido were reacting, and which opportunities my feral instincts would be tended to catch. I made some discoveries in that direction, some of which I might explore in the future, but there was nothing there that caught my attention with its intensity… And so while it was tempting to attribute part of my gray mood to the frustration of a lack of companionship, I could not convince myself that moving in that direction would address the root of my concern.
I then considered other things; in no particular order, friendships, surrogate families, and career choices. I have complex situations to tread with, and a lot of thinking to do in the coming year, but again I didn’t find anything unsettling in there either.
The most obvious and simple alternative was physical fatigue. After all, I haven’t given myself a chance to relax a lot lately. Late nights at work, very little environmental shifts, few hours out, and yet a lot of running around with logistics, all this would certainly support a healthy weariness that only true rest could lift for a while. This was my state of mind two mondays ago, and I warmly accepted the invitation to an unexpected vacation abroad this week.
Of course, it wasn’t vacation of the mind, as we have worked many hours and slept little at night; still, the complete change of surroundings and totally different life rhythm was plain relaxation to my body, and I slept soundly enough at night that my body is certainly not tired any more.
And so was I acutely disappointed, in Gatwick’s North Terminal, when I recognized despite my healthy body that the uneasiness I was trying to cure was still fresh. My impatience with myself was growing. I felt irritated, agitated out of frustration to not recognize the cause of my misfortune. Even music did not soothe me reliably any more!
In the airport, pockets full of foreign change, there were not many ways to achieve a temporarily release for this pressure: I indulged myself in a spending spree, despite my tight budget lately.
Oh boy, how did that help! My face now shines with glee at my reversed fortune!
Fortunately, I did not find joy in the mere process of spending money. The action itself was quite innocuous, not even worth a memory: I merely acquired a few books to keep me company during a long travel… And still, it took only a few pages — a few paragraphs, even — to realize how stupid I was, how blind I was to not have recognized the obvious, some of it even trustfully standing in my own living room!
I cannot share too many details in public writing about the keys to my heart and my creative self. Faithful readers and careful attendants of my library might get a glimpse of them, but I will not need to refer to them literally for my own future reference. I am simply happy to share the diverse flow of feelings that poured out of me in a few hours, or more exactly that the author squeezed out of me — relatively easily even, since they that been building up for a while… I laughed, I cried, I sobbed; I felt jealousy, I emphasized with bonding, with longing, with frustration; my breath stopped with fear and surprise, I felt both tension building up and relief. And I smiled a lot. I grinned several times for so long that my jaws and cheeks burned with stretching, while I was thinking that anyone who would see me in this situation would immediately think I am seriously mad.
I was also, for the first time in a few trips abroad, very happy to come back home. And I finally slept soundly in my bed. And now I feel happy and autonomous, once again. What a relief! A bust in self-confidence, I feel stronger now.
Another healthy night is now calling me and I will now close this account with an epilogue.
After a three-month-long fruitless process of trying to figure out the obvious, I realized a few other things in a short succession.
One is that the reason why I only release the intensity of my feelings — and my lack of self-control when I indulge in them — with books and music is that I see them as a vulnerability and that music and books are easily fended against. They can be muted and closed fairly easily. Entrusting other humans with the ability to hurt me from the inside is something I should learn to do, at least moderately, as it would allow me to truly bond instead of merely socializing and allow me to enjoy emotional satisfaction more often than with the occasional few hours of reading.
Another is the answer — or at least part of it — to a question I was asked by a dear friend among the dearest recently, in some underground restaurant in Central Europe. I think I know what I am looking for, and I am now able to make verbal statements to that effect. This will certainly open new opportunities in the near future.
And then there are a few other points that I am now free to consider, now that the more urgent matters have been resolved.
Scotland wasn’t quite a bad vacation after all.